Friday, February 12, 2016

The Cult of Chaos by Shweta Taneja

Cult of Chaos: An Anantya Tantrist Mystery
Shweta Taneja
380 pages, speculative, mystery, detective
Found: some bookstore in Kolkata

I had to pick up this book when I saw the cover for the first time. Just look at this beauty!

In an alternative modern-day New Delhi, supernatural forces have come into the open: the tantrics, who have always practiced a form of magic, have formed an official government organization; gods walk among mortals disguised as fat businessmen; nagas and other supernatural creatures haunt special, magical bars; and one lone woman tantrist works as a detective, trying to keep these supernatural beings from killing each other – or at least, clean up after they are done.

Anantya is an incredibly strong spellcaster who knows her way around potions and magic of all sorts. Being the only major female tantrist (except for her reclusive guru), she faces a lot of scorn and disapproval, and her fiery temper often gets her into trouble. For all that, she is an excellent, quick-thinking detective with a talent for surveillance and fighting - and a need to protect those who no one else will. 

When a string of murders connected to illegal black tantrist rituals shocks the city, Anantya is called in to discover the culprits and their motivations. As the situation becomes more and more dire, she must use all of her skills, training, and contacts to stop these evil rites that hit closer to home than she even dares to think about.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Blood of Angels by Johanna Sinisalo, translated by Lola Rogers

The Blood of Angels
Johanna Sinisalo
Translated by Lola Rogers (from Finnish)
First published 2011, I read 2014 English translation
224 pages, eco-speculative, grief

Many thanks to Peter Owen Publishers for providing a review copy of this novel. 

In the near future,  Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which causes worker honeybees to suddenly vanish from their hives, has become a terrible threat to the human food chain. In the United States, it has caused food shortages and the collapse of the food production infrastructure. When Orvo, a solitary beekeeper in Finland, finds one of his hives empty except for a dead queen, he fears that the catastrophe has finally spread to Finland.

Then he suddenly finds a strange phenomenon: a window to another, uninhabited world. Does this have anything to do with the sudden disappearance of his bees? What about the death of his animal rights activist, teenaged son?

This novel details the beekeeper’s search for answers, interspersed with the posts and comments from his son's blogs.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Byomkesh Bakshi directed by Anjan Dutt

Byomkesh Bakshi
India (2015), Bengali
110 minutes, detective, mystery
Directed by Anjan Dutt
Starring Jisshu Sengupta and Saswata Chatterjee

An elderly mine owner asks the famous detective Byomkesh Bakshi to solve a case for him: someone attacked and almost killed a labor leader in his mine, and he is afraid that there is a plot to ruin his business. When Byomkesh and his assistant arrive in the mining town incognito as guests of their client, they discover that there has been a murder carried out in an almost identical way to the attack on the labor leader – and one of the prime suspects is their client’s adult son.

This is a solid detective movie, based on one of the most popular Bengali detective characters (of which the most famous is Satyajit Ray’s Feluda). It was my first introduction to Byomkesh, and I quite enjoyed the character. One thing that most appreciated is that he wears a dhoti, the old-fashioned Bengali Hindu garment, rather than pants, which are more common and considered more professional. When other characters look down on him for being old-fashioned, he just smiles and takes advantage of their disdain. It is quite refreshing to see the dhoti's current meaning subverted in this way.

The women in this movie have prominent roles, even though they are mostly depicted protecting their men. The mine owner’s daughter-in-law, for example, is smart and knows who Byomkesh is, even though he has arrived under a pseudonym. She approaches the detective for help determining whether her husband is guilty of murder. She does not do this because she wants Byomkesh to help him get out of trouble; no, she is terrified that her husband is a murderer and she wants Byomkesh to find out the truth so she can decide on her next step.  This is not a passive woman begging for help to clear her husband's name, but a woman who has found herself in a bad situation and who wants more information before deciding what to do about it.

I won’t say any more because of spoilers, but I recommend that you watch this movie if you like detective fiction. The 1960s setting captures the feel of the original stories, resulting in both a solid detective movie and a good introduction to one of Bengal’s famous fictional detectives.

Further Reading: 

"Byomkesh, Feluda and Kakababu" by Avik Kumar, a good introduction to Bengali literature's three major detectives
"Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay" from Wikipedia (the author of the Byomkesh stories)

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